On Saturday, September 7, at 1 p.m. in Aberdeen, S.D., the Luther College football team will face Presentation College. The opening kickoff will mark the 100th season of varsity football at Luther.
Records show that football was started on an intercollegiate basis in 1892, although it was first introduced to the college in 1877. During those early years, rugby rules were followed and any number of players were permitted on a side. The games were usually played between teams made up of seniors and juniors on one side and sophomores and freshmen on the other, and at times these games would go on for days. From 1892–1896, Luther played a total of five games, two against Luther Academy—which was not uncommon during this era—and three against other colleges, including a 32–0 loss to State University of Iowa in 1893 and losses to Coe College (12–8) and Carleton College (12–6) in 1896.
Following the 1896 season, football games against other schools were abolished and the sport returned to intramural status. But the interest in the game remained alive and well. From 1897 until it was reintroduced as a varsity sport in 1918, class games became an essential part of Luther, keeping alive the desire to play football on an intercollegiate basis.
In 1918, an Army Training Corps team represented Luther and played two games, one against Campion College—which was located in Prairie du Chien, Wis., but which closed in 1925 – and Upper Iowa—now Upper Iowa University—located in Fayette, Iowa.
The fall of 1919 is considered the first full year of varsity football. The summer prior, Attorney Walter Jewell of Decorah, who played tackle for the University of Iowa, was hired as Luther’s first football coach. Thirty-five students came out for football. Literally starting from scratch, Jewell whipped the boys into shape, taught them the intricate details of then-modern day football, and finished with a record of 2–4. Luther kicked off the new era with a 29–6 victory over Campion in the first game of the season.
The next year, President C. K. Preus hired Luther’s first full-time football coach, when he handed the reigns to Oscar M. Solem. A former University of Minnesota football player, Solem led the Norsemen to a record of 5–1–1 and its first winning season.
Ninety-four years later, Luther’s 13th head coach Aaron Hafner, will lead the Norse against the Presentation College Saints at Clark Swisher Field in Aberdeen, S.D., beginning his first full season as a collegiate head coach.
During the past 99 years of football, Luther has tallied a record of 421–381–21, and has been a member of three conferences: Hawkeye Conference of Iowa Colleges (1906–1912), Tri-State Conference (1912–1921) and Iowa Conference (1922–present). Luther has claimed 11 Iowa Conference titles, was crowned the Corn Bowl Champions in 1955, and dropped a hard-fought 34–21 decision to Capital University in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl in 1970. Three teams recorded undefeated seasons —1954, 1955 and 1963—all led by legendary Head Coach Edsel Schweizer, who coached the Norsemen for 26 seasons compiling a record of 150—78—6 and is Luther’s all-time leader for career victories.
Throughout the 2013 campaign the Norse football team will be wearing a 100 Seasons of Football sticker on the back of its helmets. Norse fans will also see five different designs on the helmets, each representing a different era of Luther football.
A special celebration will take place at Homecoming, Saturday, Oct. 5, when Luther will host Loras. All Luther football alumni are invited to celebrate 100 Seasons of Football beginning with a tailgate picnic from 11 a.m. until kickoff at 1 p.m., and at halftime, all alumni will be recognized at midfield of Carlson Stadium.